August 2006 - Creative Minds

Pictured from left to right: Tyson Williams, Caroline La Roche, Julia La Roche, Peter Koeppel, Mitchell James Duffy and Christopher Dean Messick

ERA expands its Invention Showcase contest by joining forces with the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda and sponsor, Koeppel Direct, to recognize the top young inventors in the U.S.

By Vitisia Paynich (Photos by Roger Hagadone)

Innovative. Intelligent. Inspiring. These are just a handful of words that describe the six finalists of the 2006 FBLA Invention Showcase. Awards were handed out during a ceremony on June 14, 2006 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The program is the brainchild of two organizations, the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL), a non-profit organization that prepares students for careers in business and business education.

Last year, ERA wanted to expand its Invention Showcase contest and recognize young, aspiring inventors. Thus, the association teamed with FBLA to create an exclusive program for all FBLA-PBL members. Pre-qualified ERA members, who are actively involved in the Invention Showcase and are experts in product marketing and distribution, judged about 250,000 individuals and inventions.

Each invention submission was judged on a plethora of criterion, including best product idea, best potential for production, most ingenuity and creativity, and more. In an effort to protect the young inventors and their products, all submissions were required to have a secured patent or a patent pending on the invention idea and/or the product itself.

Out of the 250,000 submissions, six finalists stood out from the pack. The grand-prize winner received a $20,000 prize, while the second-, third- and fourth-place winners were each awarded $2,500.

Koeppel Direct Inc.-a leading company that specializes in DRTV, online, print and radio, media buying, marketing, and campaign management-sponsored the event.

“After meeting the kids and seeing their inventions, I felt really inspired about what we did for the young inventors,” says Peter Koeppel, founder and president of Koeppel Direct in Dallas. “And, it made me feel good about contributing to this program.

“I was impressed with all of them and the level of creativity. They obviously are kids who are leaders and are all good representatives of the [FBLA-PBL] organization.”
Electronic Retailer spoke to each of the finalists to learn more about what inspired them to create their winning inventions, and how this competition has helped fuel their desire to reach their future goals.

Caroline La Roche (left) and her sister, Julia, won the top prize for their “Flea Tea” pet product.

Sometimes inspiration can come from trying to find a simple solution to a common problem. Sisters Julia and Caroline La Roche of Farmville, Va., had a big problem: finding a safe flea-killing product for their cat, Priscilla.

“We tried other commercial flea medicines but they didn’t work, because they were too harsh on her fur,” notes Julia, 18. So harsh, in fact, that it caused the cat’s hair to fall out. “And so we needed something that was simple and effective,” she explains.

After doing a little research, the sisters decided to take natural ingredients, such as minerals and herbs, and blend them into a tea. “We gave [Priscilla] a bath with those ingredients and it ended up killing the fleas.” The natural herb remedy, named “Flea Tea,” can also be used on dogs.

Users would simply let the tea bag seep in a warm bath until it’s fully dissolved and then put their pet into the tub for a soothing flea dip.

“I think the ‘Flea Tea’ product is very timely,” notes Koeppel. He believes there’s a whole trend in the market towards more environmentally friendly products.
He adds, “A lot of people aren’t aware of how chemicals can affect the pets and themselves. I’ve worked with several pet-care companies and pet products and there’s definitely a market for that type of product.”

When the La Roche sisters were named as the winners of the $20,000 grand prize, they were both ecstatic.

“I wasn’t expecting us to even be a national finalist but it’s really exciting to be able to travel to Washington, D.C., and to meet others and know that we’ve probably influenced somebody out there by our inventions,” says Caroline, 16.

The inventors already plan to use a portion of the money for marketing their product. “I see the ‘Flea Tea’ being marketed very well in pet stores,” says Julia.

Both Julia and Caroline have much to look forward to and manage to keep busy when not inventing products. Julia, who recently graduated from Fuqua High School, will attend the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where she plans to major in economics.

Although Julia will be entering the next chapter in her academic career, she takes with her the skills she acquired as an FBLA member. “FBLA has been a huge part of my life. This past year, I served as the Virginia FBLA state president,” she says. Julia also served in other key positions, including state vice president. “I think it’s a great organization.”

Caroline, who begins her junior year at Fuqua in the fall, will remain very involved with FBLA and will continue to pursue her other interests. Last year, she ranked third in the under-17 group at the Junior World Cup luge competition.

Mitchell James Duffy earned second-place honors for the “Butter Blaster.”

Mitchell James Duffy, 16, from Redmond, Wash., credits his second-place win in the FBLA Invention Showcase to family and friends. Now a junior at Inglemoor High School, Duffy joined FBLA during the 2005-2006 school year.

His parents and grandfather have encouraged and supported him every step of the way.

The impetus for his invention originated from a pet peeve he and his friend shared when ordering popcorn at the movie theater. “We’re always kind of frustrated by the fact that you couldn’t get the butter down into the lower [area] of the popcorn tub,” explains Duffy.

He then began to think of a solution to this dilemma. Duffy soon came up with the “Butter Blaster,” which shoots pressurized butter through holes of a metal tube and onto the popcorn kernels in a container.

One of the requirements for entering the competition was to acquire a provisional patent for the invention. Duffy says while his dad gave him tips on drafting a patent, his dad’s colleague, a former patent attorney, walked him through the process. “He was able to help me write a much better patent than I would have if I had done it myself,” says Duffy.

Now with $2,500 in seed money, the promising inventor can pursue a utility patent for the “Butter Blaster.”

Judges selected Tyson Williams’ “Floating Game Table” as the winner of the third-place prize.

As far as Tyson Williams, 18, was concerned, a floating game table would have been a perfect birthday gift for his dad-especially since the family had just installed a hot tub. Williams says he knew there were waterproof playing cards available on the market.

“And I thought there would be a game table that you could [fit in a hot tub], but when I looked, I couldn’t find one and that’s how I got the idea. I started working on trying to make my product in November 2005 and then after that, I had heard about the contest,” says Williams, a resident of Grand Junction, Colo.

At the time a senior at Fruita Monument High School, Williams constructed a prototype that he named the “Floating Game Table.” “It has drink holders and chip holders in case you want to play poker,” he notes.

Although Koeppel believes the “Floating Game Table” might be too much of a niche product to be marketed via DRTV, he says, however, “it probably might be more suited as a retail product.”

Williams’ invention won third place and $2,500, which is a good start for this aspiring business major. He will enter his freshmen year in the fall at Colorado State University.

Christopher Dean Messick’s “Gesture System for Computer Interface” was awarded fourth place in the judging.

Ever since he was in the third grade, Christopher Dean Messick, 16, of Monte Vista, Colo., has been passionate about computers. Messick, who will be a senior at Sargent High School this fall, developed the “Gesture System for Computer Interface.” This gesturing system features two gloves, worn by a computer user, that read hand movements. What’s more, the user can flex his or her hands to type, move the pointer and input entire phrases.

The prototype, which came in fourth place, is “actually based on a previous system that I had developed,” explains Messick. “Previously, I had made a system in which one glove replaced the use of a mouse in a computer. So, the user would just flex the finger in different ways, and it would move a pointer.”

The young inventor admits that he encountered a few glitches with his earlier invention. Nevertheless, he was determined to perfect it. “I knew already that I wanted to use these flex sensors and different components, but I began researching in the general field of what had been covered with interface, because I had no clue how I would manage to [do it],” he says.

The completed prototype is a product that he says is well suited for people with disabilities, such as arthritis. He also believes the product could appeal to consumers who appreciate high-tech gadgets.

As for future plans, Messick has earned three scholarships to three different colleges, which includes a $105,000 scholarship to Drexel University in Philadelphia. Messick says he plans to visit the three colleges and select the one with the best engineering program.

Among this year’s finalists were two products that earned honorable mentions. The first one, the “Doggie Den/Kitty Cave,” was actually developed by the two grand-prize winners.

“Our purpose for creating the ‘Doggie Den/Kitty Cave’ was that dog houses are unattractive when sitting in your front yard,” contends Caroline La Roche. “So the ‘Doggie Den’ looks like a landscaping rock that you put in your front yard, and it’s pretty attractive. It goes with the landscape and it’s actually heated to keep your animals warm in the winter.”

James Toles, 16, of Savannah, Ga., has taken great pride in the development of his product, called “Photosynthelect.” The concept came from a science project assigned by his biology teacher at Savannah Arts Academy. “[She] asked all of her students to create a board game, and this was supposed to be a project on various biological processes,” he explains.

What Toles developed was an educational game featuring three different boards, which represent the three stages of photosynthesis. The idea behind the product is to sharpen the student’s knowledge, while having fun at the same time.

Now that Invention Showcase judges have recognized “Photosynthelect,” Toles would like to see his board game used in schools all throughout the country.

He adds, “The whole thing about me being able to teach someone and [that person] being able to learn from my game really warms my heart.”

2006 FBLA Invention Showcase Winners
Grand Prize
“Flea Tea”
Julia and Caroline La Roche
Fuqua High School of Farmville, Va.

Second Place
“Butter Blaster”
Mitchell James Duffy
Inglemoor High School of
Redmond, Wash.

Third Place
“Floating Game Table”
Tyson Williams
Fruita Monument High School of Grand Junction, Colo.

Fourth Place
“Gesture System for Computer Interface”
Christopher Dean Messick
Sargent High School of Monte Vista, Colo.

Honorable Mention
“Doggy Den/Kitty Cave”
Julia and Caroline La Roche
Fuqua High School of Farmville, Va.

Honorable Mention
James Toles
Savannah Arts Academy of Savannah, Ga.

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